Kung Fu vs Taekwondo

Taekwondo Vs Kung Fu – What is the Difference?

Kung Fu Vs TaeKwonDo

Martial arts instills discipline and respect within oneself to be the best person they can be. They all come from different origins and people also question, how they match up with one another.

So if you are wondering what are the differences between Taekwondo and Kung Fu? There are 6 areas that need to be looked at to know how these martial art styles vary.

  • Origin
  • Philosophy
  • Forms
  • Techniques
  • Weapons used
  • Real Life Effectiveness

Keep on reading as in this article, as we address each of the 6 ways Taekwondo and Kung Fu are different. We also address questions on how they are also, in certain ways, similar.

The Differences between Taekwondo and Kung Fu

Origins of Kung Fu

The term “Kung Fu” actually is a blanket that encompasses several hundred different fighting styles that were developed in China. Though a number of historical records and legends show that Kung Fu was originated outside of China. It actually started in India and originated from Indian martial arts during the first millennium.

The origins of Kung Fu are shrouded in legend with no single figure being credited for being credited for being the founder. Supposedly the founder was a Buddhist monk named Bodhidarma that allegedly developed Kung Fu in the 5th or 6th century. He is linked to being the founder of Kung Fu in a exercise/martial arts manual from 1624 called the Yijing Jing,

However, many historians believe that many accounts in the book are fabricated and inaccurate. For example, the writer added fictional characters to supposed historical events and legend has it that the manual was discovered at Bodhidarma’s grave site.

While most accounts of Kung Fu’s origins are legends and historically inaccurate. Most historians agree that Kung Fu originated from Indian martial arts and was developed further in one of the first Chinese monasteries in the early 5th or 6th century.

From that point on Kung Fu continued to spread for the next thousand plus years with hundreds of different styles being developed.

Origins of Taekwondo

While the art of TaeKwonDo is still very young, the early martial arts of Korea helped inspire its current form as it is practiced today. Martial arts in Korea actually go back thousands of years and developed in early Korean kingdoms that predate the Roman empire and the birth of Christ.

After the founder of Korea named Dongoon unified the tribes of Korea, the nation later split into three kingdoms.

  • Koguryo(37 BC-668 AD)
  • Pakje(18 BC-600 AD)
  • Silla(57 BC- 936 AD)

These are where we can see some of the roots of TaeKwonDo started to take form. Murals and sculptures discovered in the remnants of the former kingdoms show soldiers performing fighting forms and techniques that are very similar to the techniques practiced in modern day Taekwondo.

Unfortunately after the Yi Dynasty was forcibly removed in 1910 by the invading nation of Japan, the martial arts they once practiced were essentially killed off.

The Japanese implemented laws that banned the Korean people from practicing all cultural activities as they were indoctrinating Korea with Japanese culture. Karate was introduced and gained popularity until Korea was liberated in 1945.

Martial arts schools began to form after the liberation and many instructors wanted to get back to the roots of traditional unarmed Korean combat. Attempts to unify the dojangs and standardizing the methods of instructors were made, but with no success.

But in 1973, the first officially governing body named The World TaeKwonDo Federation was formed under the leadership of Dr. Un Yong Kim. After the organization was formed, the first world championship was held soon after.

As the saying goes, the rest is history. TaeKwonDo is the official martial art of the Korean military, an Olympic event, and is practiced by millions of people around the world. 

Philosophy of Kung Fu

The philosophy of Kung Fu is deeply based in Taoism. Like in Taoism, the purpose of Kung Fu is to keep harmony and balance within the lives of practitioners. It goes beyond just the physical movements of the arts and gives a guide to live a life of peace and happiness.

In Kung Fu, they use Taoism’s Yin and Yang symbol to signify hard and soft techniques. Hard techniques for Yin and Yang for soft techniques. Practitioners learn proper breathing techniques and when to use soft and hard techniques against an opponent.

Forces of Yin and Yang are demonstrated in the nature of water. Water can be calm or powerful and is very adaptable. Being shapeless and taking any form like water is something strived for in Kung Fu. “Be like water” as the legendary Bruce Lee said.  

Philosophy of TaeKwonDo

Similar to Kung Fu, the purpose of TaeKwonDo goes beyond the mental and physical coordination of performing the techniques. The purpose of the martial art is to develop a spirit within yourself that carries over to all aspects of life. “Tae” means foot, “Kwon” means fist, and “Do” means way.

Ji Do Kwan, which is one of the original TaeKwonDo schools has a symbol that represents the philosophical goals of the martial art. It is a circle called an o-de-key is made up of three circles with one representing the Earth, and the other two representing aspects of life.

They are all connected to one another, which have no beginning or end and represents the journey through TaeKwonDo and life.

The o-de-key has eight phrases around it that explain how a student of TaeKwonDo is to conduct their self. They are:

  • Think rightly
  • Feel rightly
  • View lightly
  • Conduct rightly
  • Contribute rightly
  • Have ability rightly
  • Speak rightly
  • Order rightly

Both Strive For Self Betterment

Kung Fu and TaeKwonDo share similarities in philosophies that go past just performing the movements of the martial arts. They both strive for students to be the best people they can possibly be. Moving fluidly through life and continue to pursue being a better person and martial artist.

Forms of Kung Fu

Numerous books have been written on the hundreds of forms of Kung Fu, so we’ll just list a few of the most known styles and what the methods are.

Shaolin Kung Fu

Probably the most known form of Kung Fu developed that has been practiced at Buddhist monasteries for centuries. It originated in the Shaolin Temple on Mount Songshan in Henan Province. These martial artists train their bodies and minds to be strong and peaceful warriors that train in all forms of combat including with weapons.

Wing Chun

Wing Chun is the art of using an opponent’s energy against them. It is known for the techniques being simple, yet effective. Master Yip Man is credited for helping spread the ideas of Wing Chun throughout the world.

Tai Chi

Is the national martial art of China. Moves are practiced slowly and methodically to develop internal power.


Originated Hui Minority Kung Fu in in Cangzhou county, HeBei Province. This martial art practiced short and explosive movements. It is closely related to what the Chinese military teaches and used by bodyguards of politicians.

Praying Mantis

This Kung Fu style has been used in many martial arts films. Praying Mantis mimics the movements of the insect with your hand like hooks for hand play and fast and agile footwork.

Forms of TaeKwonDo 

It is a little easier to list forms of TaeKwonDo as they have similar hand to hand combat techniques. (And some weapons depending on the school.) There’s many forms as well, but they can be narrowed down by five organizations of Taekwondo.

International TaeKwonDo Federation

ITF schools use 24 forms developed primarily in the 60’s by Choi Hong Hi. It is referred to by some as the traditional form of the art as it represents the first attempt to consolidated style of Taekwondo.

Global TaeKwonDo Federation:

GTF was created by Park Jung Tae and added six patterns to the original ITF 24.

American TaeKwonDo Association

Like the ITF style TaeKwonDo, but these forms emphasize more kicking than ITF forms. It is also a franchising organization, so schools pay them to be officially recognized ATA schools with their curriculum being taught at them.

Jhoon Rhee Forms

A pioneer that helped bring TaeKwonDo to the US originally called his style Korean Karate, but then changed to using ITF style forms. He then changed again to his own style after controversies surrounding ITF founder Choi Hong Hi.

World TaeKwonDo (Kukkiwon)

A style of TaeKwonDo that was created in the 60’s, but changed its name to Taegeuk in the 70’s. It is geared more to preparing students for a sparring in sport style Taekwondo.

Techniques of Kung Fu and TaeKwonDo

Kung Fu

The techniques of Kung Fu really depend on the style. Some styles focus on speed, others on power, or manipulating their opponent’s power against them.

For example, Shaolin boxing has powerful punches and kicks, Praying Mantis uses speed/trickery, and Wing Chun uses manipulation of an opponent’s movements putting.


The techniques of TaeKwonDo rely upon speed and precision. There are a few punching techniques, but a lot of combinations rely on ending with a variety of different kicks. They practice multiple jumping kicks, sidekicks, spinning kicks, front kicks, and roundhouse. All of them delivered at high speed with force.


Martial Arts Weapons

Kung Fu

Each school of Kung Fu has their own different forms of combat and they also have their own techniques for combat with weapons. Practitioners could be efficient in using weapons such as broadswords,long swords, spears, staffs, whip chains, hooks, and sickles with other various weapons also.


TaeKwonDo is more of a hand to hand martial art, that does not use weapons but there are schools that do have classes on using weapons generally for kata competitions. Schools in the US that compete in ATA certified tournaments have competitions with weapons such as staffs, nunchucks, kamas, and different swords.

Real Life Effectiveness

Both are effective in situations against an untrained opponent, but techniques in certain forms of Kung Fu would be more practical. Many combinations in TaeKwonDo rely on jumping and spinning to land kicks, while forms of Kung Fu like Shaolin Kung Fu have simpler effective strikes that have a less margin of error. 

The biggest weakness TaeKwonDo has is that the martial art has no grappling techniques. Most real life conflicts have grappling involved in them and there are forms of Kung Fu that include aspects of grappling in their training.

This is not say TaeKwonDo isn’t effective. A martial artist specializing in TaekwonDo has lethal strikes and can handle themselves in a real life altercation. Definitely more so than forms of Kung Fu like Tai Chi that are more for meditation and breathing exercises.

Both martial arts have great elements that would be effective for any martial artist to learn. Not only are the techniques of each effective, but Kung Fu and TaeKwonDo have great philosophies that teach their students to be at peace with themselves and live happier lives.